RCMP confirm no survivors of crashed N.W.T. charter flight

Two pilots who have been missing since their charter flight went down over the Northwest Territories are now confirmed dead, the RCMP says.

Bad weather hampered efforts to reach plane after it was spotted Wednesday

The Air Tindi float plane airbase in Yellowknife on Jan 30. On Wednesday morning, Air Tindi lost contact with one of its charter flights between Yellowknife and Whati, N.W.T. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC)

Two pilots who have been missing since their charter flight went down over the Northwest Territories are now confirmed dead, according to the RCMP. 

In a news release late Thursday afternoon, RCMP said the crash site — located near Behchoko, N.W.T. — is under restricted access as the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) continues its investigation.

The Mounties say the pilots' families have been notified, but police will not release any further information.

The King Air 200 aircraft, from Yellowknife-based Air Tindi, was bound for Whati — a small community 140 kilometres northwest of the territorial capital — when it went missing Wednesday morning. The pilots, both Air Tindi employees, were the only people on board. 

"It's a hard time," said airline president Al Martin. "The Air Tindi company is about 200 people, and it genuinely is a family. It's just such a close-knit group of people. 

"So it really hurts. It really hurts."

Martin said the company has been in contact with their families "all the way through." 

We want to know as much as anyone else.- Air Tindi president Al Martin

A search plane spotted the twin turboprop aircraft on Wednesday afternoon, near Behchoko, but the fate of the pilots was unknown.

Search and rescue personnel parachuted into the area Wednesday, according to Royal Canadian Air Force spokesperson David Lavallee. Lavallee said Canadian Rangers from Behchoko could not reach the site due to deep snow and weather conditions. 

The RCMP said Thursday the cause of the crash is under investigation, with the help of the police, the N.W.T. Coroner's Office and the TSB.

The TSB said investigators are headed to the site to "gather information and assess the occurrence."

Air Tindi president said his airline will conduct its own investigation of the crash. (Randall McKenzie/CBC)

Martin said Air Tindi will co-operate fully with the TSB's investigation, and plans to conduct its own investigation.

But on Thursday he had "no information to even speculate on" what may have caused the crash.

"Ultimately, we want to know as much as anyone else," he said.

A Beechcraft 200 Super King Air — similar to the lost Air Tindi plane — waits on the tarmac of an airport in Brnik, Slovenia in May 2002. (Tina Kosec/Reuters)

Search hampered by weather

Contact with the flight was lost sometime between 9:00 and 9:30 a.m. local time on Wednesday, when it was approximately 24 to 32 kilometres outside Whati, according to Martin. 

The RCMP contacted the air force around midday, said Lavallee. A C-130 Hercules aircraft was sent from Winnipeg to help with the search, and Canadian Rangers were deployed by snowmobile. 

After looking through the morning and early afternoon, the Rangers returned to Whati to warm up and get more gas to head back out and continue the search, according to Rangers Sgt. Alfred Beaverho. 

However, while they were planning their afternoon search, they received word that the plane had been spotted. 

According to Environment Canada, it was –23 C with blowing snow in the area Wednesday. The bad weather hampered search efforts, the RCMP said. 

Air Tindi flights were suspended Wednesday as a result of the incident. 

A Canadian Armed Forces C-130 Hercules aircraft being serviced at the Yellowknife airport Thursday. A Hercules was sent from Winnipeg to help in the search for the charter plane that disappeared Wednesday in the Northwest Territories. (Randall McKenzie/CBC)

With files from Richard Gleeson